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January 16, 2019

All Kenyans are ensnared in the comb web of negative ethnicity

I welcome the debate on negative ethnicity and ethnic discrimination as crucial for our collective survival and well-being.

Every Kenyan should join this debate on negative ethnicity because this ideology is a rat trap that is everybody’s problem - mtego wa panya unaonasa waliomo na wasiokuwemo.

Negative ethnicity is the worst hindrance to our good leadership, national unity, peace, development, survival and success against terrorism. Debate on it deserves priority.

To understand negative ethnicity, we must not define it merely in terms of which community has more jobs in the government. Kikuyu elite may have more jobs than other ethnic elites. But Kikuyu community does not eat through it, or the community would not have most jiggers, most criminals, most prostitutes and most dead in mortuaries. Majorities do not always imply guilt or minorities innocence.

Fundamentally, Kikuyu elite does not have more jobs than other elites because it is more tribalistic than other ethnic elites but because it is bigger, has held power for longer and therefore had more opportunities to allocate itself more resources and jobs. Despite inequalities, all Kenyan elites and communities have ensnared themselves in the web of negative ethnicity, and hence three other ethnic elites – Kisii, Kalenjin and Embu elites – are also overrepresented in the public service. Somali, Turkana and Maasai tinier elites are severely underrepresented.

To end ethnic hate and discrimination, we must have a more comprehensive understanding and definition of negative ethnicity or tribalism.

Negative ethnicity is an ideology of defining ourselves with stereotypes that claim more humanity, superiority, brains, beauty and entitlement for us, while defining others with lesser humanity, more inferiority, lesser beauty, lesser brains, lesser entitlement and lesser right to life.

Though beneficiaries propagate and attack others with aggressive negative ethnicity, victims of negative discrimination propagate and defend themselves with defensive negative ethnicity. Generally, however, all Kenyans are tribalists who are dead sick with negative ethnicity, and are its moral or economic captives.

While negative ethnicity or tribalism is universal, progressive people refer to ethnic hate as negative ethnicity rather than tribalism, a term that racist colonialists invented and reserved as a special demonisation for Africans. Yet ethnic hate in the mind of a white person is as evil as ethnic hate in the mind of a black person. Avoiding the term tribalism is not being clever but correcting a colonial misconception and saving Africans from a racial insult that is no different from calling Africans Kaffirs, boys, natives or niggers.

Part of defining negative ethnicity is realisation that somebody’s ethnic nature or ethnicity is innocent and harmless, and we call its celebration positive ethnicity. But we call and fight demonisation of others’ ethnicity as negative ethnicity.

While communities can share in the propagation of negative ethnicity as they did in Germany and Rwanda, their benefits from negative ethnicity are at best bitter and at worst poisonous and fatal.

Because common folk in all communities benefit nothing from negative ethnicity, they are only made to believe such benefits exist when they don’t. Instead of benefiting from negative ethnicity, the poor are always victims of exploitation and oppression by own or other ethnic elites who are the first and last beneficiaries of negative ethnicity.

Propagators and receivers, beneficiaries and victims of negative ethnicity are equal owners; but unequal beneficiaries of negative ethnicity that has become the unchallenged ideology of our politics. Whether our leaders deny negative ethnicity in the day and preach it at night, at all levels, the ideology of our leaders is negative ethnicity or its mutant clannism. The only people who don’t fear propagating negative ethnicity openly and anywhere are the poor whose lesser understanding of it makes them believe it is the panacea of all their ills and problems.

Negative ethnicity is also the ideology of our political alliances and governments of our ethnic coalitions.

Kenyans have been rightly complaining that there is ethnic discrimination in the distribution of jobs and certain political appointments are reserved for communities whose elites form the government at the expense of other communities whose elites are in the opposition. Yet given the ethnic nature of our politics, ethnic discrimination in job and resource allocation is inevitable and unavoidable.

When ethnic coalitions form governments, they share power and resources among coalition partners at the exclusion of losing ethnic elites. And though the losing ethnic elites complain of ethnic discrimination, were their ethnic coalitions to form government, by the logic of negative ethnicity which they embrace, practise the same ethnic discrimination?

Because we have all embraced negative ethnicity, we are all either guilty or potentially guilty of meting out ethnic discrimination and oppression.

The logic of excluding other communities from our ethnic governments is because negative ethnicity defines other communities as enemies to be discriminated, oppressed and eliminated. As long as we have embraced negative ethnicity, we are doomed to self-destruct with genocide, perpetual conflicts and civil wars.

In generating trouble and conflict, negative ethnicity, like religious radicalisation, is a cousin of racism, sister of clannism and mother of ethnic terrorism. Kenya cannot hope to end political conflict between Kikuyu and Luo, Turkana and Pokot without eradicating negative ethnicity or hope to end conflict between clans without eliminating clannism.

Ultimately, negative ethnicity is an ideology, a belief and a state of mind that can only be eliminated by substitution with counter ideology of nationalism, equality and merit.

Can Jubilee or Cord government fight and end negative ethnicity, ethnic hate and discrimination? As beneficiaries who rode to Parliament and Presidency on the back of negative ethnicity, current leaders cannot commit suicide by eradicating negative ethnicity. Only a government not anchored on negative ethnicity can eliminate ethnic discrimination in Kenya.


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